Today we are starting our summer long series entitled “How to be a Missionary without ever leaving Lancaster.” Now before I get to far into where we are heading today, I wanted to give you a brief run down on where we are headed with this series, how it will be broken down, and some thoughts about why we are having a series called How to be a Missionary without ever leaving Lancaster.
We are building our series this summer around the concept of how a missionary or missionary community would seek to plant a faith community in a mission context (which believe it or not, we are in one..38 out of 100 postChristian cities.). The concept is what I would call a Missionary or Missional Flow (and is I believe our strategy on planting Veritas). This Missional Flow looks something like this…(show slide)
The first step in being a missionary or missionary/missional community is Engaging Culture. We won’t unpack what that means right now, but over the course of 4 weeks in June, we’ll talk about that. We’ll talk about Engaging Culture, as well as having some on the spot missionary experiences, some “take home” work to come back and report on, and on June 30 we’ll go out into the Lancaster community to serve. (looking for ideas of a non-profit that we could establish a relationship with and serve those 4 5th Sundays..ideas let me know)
As you can see the next step in being a missionary or missional community is to Form Community. So in the month of July we’ll be talking a great deal about what it means to form community, build relationships, and develop friendships. And we will also have some on the spot missionary experiences in forming community, some “take home” work to come back and report on, and many opportunities to build and form community all summer long with things like Long’s Park Summer Music Series nights, and our Community Dinners/Picnics on Tuesday night at Laura’s.
The “last step” (not that you do this and you are finished…it is actually a never ending strategy) is when you Structure Congregations. In the month of August we’ll spend time talking about what it means to be a community of Jesus followers. What it means to be church? About the important and non-negotiables. And ways to structure a community. We’ll also have times of conversation about Veritas and how to move our community forward into the next year, and how to structure our leadership, community, missional communities, etc…..
But today is our first day in the Engage Culture part of the “How to be a Missionary without ever leaving Lancaster”. Throughout June we’ll be looking at various ways of Engaging Culture, and things that we need to be about, when Engaging Culture. Today we are looking at Engaging Culture by BLESSING.
So let’s turn to a passage of Scripture that is fast becoming one of my favorite’s and see what it might have to say to us today about engaging culture by being a blessing. Genesis 12:1-3 says, “The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
The first thing we see in this text is God’s call to Abram, and by definition his call to the entire jewish people (even before there was a Jewish nation), and then the same call to those of us who are followers of Jesus. This call or covenant that the Lord gave to Abram has never been changed or rescinded so it is something that applies to us as followers of Jesus here in the 21st century. So the Lord’s call to Abram is a pretty challenging and risky call. The first thing he says is “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” So in other words leave everything that you have ever known. Leave your comfort zone. Leave your security, leave your family, leave everything. And if that wasn’t bad enough, God also says that he is supposed to go to a land that he will show him. It’s not like God said, leave your family, etc.. and go to Canaan. It probably should be more accurate to say “as you are going I will show you the land.” Abram didn’t have a map, a GPS, a smart phone with turn by turn directions, etc….to navigate where he was heading. All he had was God’s call and God’s direction. To trust God’s leading, put one foot in front of the other and continue to seek God’s face to know which way he was supposed to head. You see God was preparing Abram to truly be the first missional person, and the descendants of Abram (who later became Abraham) to be the first missional people. He was called to leave his homeland. That meant leaving the Tigris-Euphrates valley and to leave the security of civilization and to enter the unknown. The wilderness so to speak. And in much the same way, God is calling us to be a missional people who leave behind the comfortable, ordinary, every day to embrace risk, uncertainty, and the unknown. Before we can truly engage the culture we need to get outside of our own self and our own comfort zone and to listen to the spirit of God leading us to “a land that I will show you.”
So what happens with Abram arrives in the land that God was going to show him as he went? What is the strategy, the scheme, the plan so to speak for Abram? Verse 2 and 3 show us what is supposed to happen with Abram gets to the place that God will show him, ““I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Now remember that there was no nation. It was just Abram and his wife Sarai with no kids (because she was barren according to Genesis 11:30). So we see that God intended that this call on Abram’s life would surpass and transcend his life and move through his descendants and continue on through the years through Abraham’s descendants and to Jesus, and to the early church, and to anyone who has named the name of Jesus who has ever lived or will ever live. You see the call was his destiny, as well as Israel’s as well as ours. And the inspiring destiny is that Abraham and his descendants were somehow to be the means of God putting things to right, the spearhead of God’s rescue operation. Through Abraham and his family, God would and will bless the whole world. God’s original blessing on the whole world would be especially fulfilled by the lives of Abraham and his offspring. In various ways and degrees, these promises and vocation, to be a blessing to the entire world, were reaffirmed to Abram, to Isaac, to Jacob, and to Moses. It would also carry into the New Testament with Abraham’s physical descendants, the people of Israel, as well as Abraham’s spiritual descendants, gentile believers (which would include all of us). But most of all, this promise and calling to be a blessing to the world was fulfilled by the person, ministry, life, and work of Jesus, who is the greatest blessing the world has ever known.
Now something that we need to understand regarding God’s promise to bless Abraham is that this great status is not exclusive. He is not blessed to the exclusion of others, but rather, he is blessed in order to bless others. In fact, being blessed is elaborated on in the second part of verse 2, “I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” The kind of blessing that Abram will receive is the blessing of being a blessing to others. Being blessed doesn’t mean that you get to keep it all to yourself. All too often however the people of Israel had a narrow and selfish concern for their own interests (not too different than us today) but the highest vision of the prophets was of a suffering servant of mankind. Many Israelites didn’t want a God who would be equally the God of all the nations of the earth. They wanted a God who would be partial to them. But here at the very beginning of the Scriptures, God is calling his people, through Abram, not to look for their own blessings, but to take their blessings and use them to bless others. When they lived as a blessing in the world, as well as lived in obedience to God and followed him only, things went well for the people of Israel. When they didn’t live as a blessing in the world, things didn’t go well.
I believe one of the greatest heresies, if you will, in religion (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc..) is a failure to take seriously these lines of poetry. When religions assume that their adherents are chosen only to be blessed, and forget that they are blessed to be a blessing, they distort their identity and they drift from God’s calling for them. When we as Christ followers see ourselves as blessed to the exclusion of others rather than for the benefit of others, we become part of the problem instead of part of the solution. And we see this again and again in the history of our world (crusades, etc...) and certainly in today’s world. And so as we enter the first part of our How to be a missionary without ever leaving Lancaster, we come to the conclusion that a missionary or missional community needs to take seriously the calling of Abram, and begin to own it as our own call as well. That in order to engage culture, one of the best ways is to simply be a blessing.
But what does that mean? What does it look like to be a blessing to people? Who is God laying on your heart to be a blessing and what will you do to be a blessing? That is where we will spend the rest of our time together discussing.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture text and/or the message? 2. What would or does it look like to get out of your comfort zone and embrace risk and uncertainty in the midst of engaging culture? 3. In what ways can we as a community engage culture by blessing people? 4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it? 5. “Homework”- Bless 3 people- preferably those who don’t know Jesus, that you know of in some tangible way and then come prepared to share what happened, what you did, etc…